School bus driver teaches safety with a beat
December 15, 2011
By Sebastian Moraga
NEW — 5:15 p.m. Dec. 15, 2011
Portly and with a long white beard, Chuck Smith resembles someone he’s quite familiar with, Santa Claus.
Add his red cap to the picture and he resembles Denver Pyle, the actor who played Uncle Jesse in the old “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show.
Twist that cap to the right and he becomes someone else entirely: He becomes Chuck Smith, the school bus-driving rapper.
“He’s really funny and cool and stuff,” said seventh-grader Julia Carroll at Twin Falls Middle School, where Smith begins his route early every morning.
Standing behind Carroll at the lunch-break line were classmates Cody Longwell, James Bent and Quinn Madsen.
“He’s awesome,” all three said in unison.
Smith has become a hit with students, thanks in part to a song he performs on the bus to tell them what to do in case of an emergency. Smith wrote the song to keep children interested while he gave his safety talk.
“My wife sent me a video of a Southwest Airlines steward named David Holmes, and he did it for the airline passengers,” Smith said. “When I watched it, it was funny and it was cute, but what struck me was, when the camera panned down to the aisle, everyone was paying attention.”
That’s not normally the case with safety drills, in a school bus loaded with children wearing headphones and iPods. Smith, a onetime glazer and book salesman, wrote the lyrics to a song of his own, OK’d it with his supervisor, and then showed it to the children.
“They loved it,” he said of his first performance, almost two years ago. “It was just me a capella, no music, no nothing.”
The children loved the song so much that Smith had to do the song twice a day for the next two weeks, until he told them he was getting tired of it. Smith then searched online for a royalty-free rap beat. Step two was mixing the beat with a recording of his voice. Step three was laying the complete track and a track with just the music onto a CD.
“Once I did that, the kids loved it even more because it had music,” he said.
Step four was taking the song to the stage, at a talent show at the school. Step five was adapting the song to the different ages of children he drives. The song changes when he drives children from elementary or high schools.
When he’s not getting in touch with his inner Jay-Z, Smith has another child-friendly gig: he plays Santa. And he’s so good at it, some of the children in his route have sat on his lap and talked toys with him on Saturday and not recognized him on the bus the next Monday.
“Once you’re in a suit and you’re in costume, you take on a whole different aura,” he said.
His Santa job has taken him to places like Safeway and Encompass. Not bad for a guy who still describes himself as shy and whose only regret seems to be he did not start driving a bus sooner than five years ago.
“This is the best job that I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
On the Web
See a video of local school bus driver Chuck Smith rapping on his bus at www.snovalleystar.com.
See a video of Southwest Airlines steward David Holmes, which started Smith’s rapping safety briefing, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9lZV_828OA.